Fall writing workshops

I’m teaching workshops with Ink Well Vancouver again this fall, along with my friends Rachelle Delaney and Stacey Matson. Because what could be better than spending a morning talking about writing?

Well, three mornings.

If you have writers in your life, published or unpublished, send them here to register!

Building Blocks of Plot: Conflict and Tension
Sunday September 23, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Raise the stakes of your story, amp up the pressure, and torture your characters. The goals of this workshop may sound a bit macabre, but the results will be worth it! Cranking up the conflict in your story — in carefully crafted ways — will keep your readers turning pages long after bedtime. Together, we’ll examine time-honoured methods of creating conflict, try our hands at some new ones, and discuss less recognized ways (subtext, anyone?) to build tension in children’s books.
Cost: $60.00.

Building Blocks of Plot: Scenes that Sizzle
Sunday October 28, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Whether you’re writing an early reader, a chapter book, or a young-adult novel, building great scenes is vital. So what are the components of a strong, compelling scene? Through famous examples, writing activities, and group discussion, we’ll explore ways to develop character, establish voice, and propel your story forward.
Cost: $60.00.

Building Blocks of Plot: The Arc
Sunday November 18, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Hero’s journey? Twenty-two story steps? Something about a cat that needs saving? There are countless plotting methods out there. In this workshop, we’ll explore the ones that work best in children’s books. We’ll figure out how to choose the right plot form for each project. Then, even the “pantsers” among us will try our hands at plotting a story!
Cost: $60.00.

People who sign up for all three fall sessions receive a 20-page manuscript consultation. (Yes, more talking about writing!)

Perfect picture books

I stopped by Kidsbooks last night, where Kallie George and Sara Gillingham were launching their latest picture books.

Here’s Kallie reading from The Doll Hospital, which Sara illustrated with a limited palate that makes it look both richly saturated and adorably retro. It’s a gorgeous book.

And here’s Sara playing guessing games with Boats Are Busy.

So much fun! (Why don’t I write picture books? Why do I write about pot and surveillance and teen pregnancy? Picture books are so much prettier!)

To Hope and back again

I spent the last week on a whirlwind tour of the Fraser Valley, thanks to the Fraser Valley Regional Library, Reading Link Challenge, and a lot of gracious and highly organized teachers and librarians. (If anyone at the United Nations is reading this, you should immediately hire Rachel Burke. She’ll get those humanitarian aid deliveries organized faster than you can say “Read, Learn, Play.”)


(Thank you to Maple Ridge librarian Sally Gwyn for the photo!)

With my books in tow, I went to Maple Ridge, Chilliwack, Langley, Yarrow, Hope, Mission, Port Coquitlam, and Delta. I presented to groups of 30 and groups of 150. I told strange scientist tales from DNA Detective and underwear-outside-clothes stories from 50 Underwear Questions.

I collected lots of favourite moments from along the way, like when one small boy stayed behind to say very shyly “you’re funny and I like books.” Or when kids at Coquihalla Elementary in Hope kept saying “Hi, Ms. Deb,” to the visiting librarian in their hallway, and it turned out she’s known them all since their days at toddler story hour. I think the happiest kids to see me were those from Maple Ridge Environmental School, who spend tons of their time outdoors. It was torrentially raining that day, and my presentation is 100 percent monsoon-free.

Thank you to all the libraries and schools that so kindly hosted me, and all the students who perfected their dramatic death scenes and their explosion sound effects. I had an amazing time!

The ALAN workshop

Guys, I’ve found it. Nirvana for book-lovers. It’s called the ALAN Workshop, it was held this year in St. Louis, and I was invited to speak about Prince of Pot on a panel with the shockingly clever and wise Jennifer E. Smith, J.C. Geiger, and Shanetia Clark.

I’m quite sure I was incoherent, but who can blame me? LOOK at the size of this room:

There are 500 teachers at the workshop, all of whom receive a giant box of curated books, which they sort and re-sort in mysterious ways as the day progresses. Plus they seem to know everyone and everything related to YA literature.

But it’s impossible to be nervous (well, almost impossible), because everyone there is (a) incredibly nice and (b) incredibly happy. I met a teacher from Florida outside the convention centre who said, “Isn’t this amazing? I’m so glad I’m an English teacher and not a math teacher. This is so much better than a math convention!”

It was awesome. I want very badly to go back. Or maybe to live permanently amidst those stacks of books.

On a side note, St. Louis itself was also full of wonderful surprises, a few of which are here:

And, best of all:

Thank you, ALAN, for inviting me, and Groundwood Books for sending me!

Introducing Ink Well Vancouver

Today’s launch day! I’ve been working with two of my favourite people, Rachelle Delaney and Stacey Matson, on a new community for children’s writers and aspiring writers. It’s called Ink Well Vancouver. We have lots more plans for the future, but our very first offering is a six-week workshop.

It’s going to look just like this, except indoors and in January.

I would love, love, love if you would sign up to join us. There’s nothing better than an evening spent talking about writing and children’s books, and it’s even better when it’s with awesome people. Sign up is here!

Word Vancouver

It’s almost September! My calendar is a mess of kids’ activities and parent meetings and, in a pale yellow colour that seems to disappear amidst the family chaos, my own book events.

I’m thinking of changing my colour to fuchsia.

In case you’d like to mark your own calendars, in fuchsia or otherwise, I’m doing two events as part of Word Vancouver.

At 6:30 pm on Friday, September 22nd, I’m reading from Shadow Warrior at Christianne’s Lyceum as part of a Heroics and Heart evening. Rachelle Delaney and Kallie George are also reading. AND… here’s the best part… you can wear your pyjamas. I know! All book events should occur in pyjamas. Why don’t more people think of this?

At 2:30 pm on Sunday, September 24th, I’m talking Eyes and Spies in the south plaza of the downtown Vancouver Public Library. (I don’t actually know where the south plaza is, but hopefully we’ll all figure it out and end up there together. It can’t be that hard, right?)

Come and bring friends and fuzzy slippers! (To either event. I won’t judge.) I’d love to have friendly faces in the audience.

In miniature

I went last night to the book launch for Kallie George’s new Heartwood Hotel series, an infinitely adorable collection of books about a resting place for forest animals.

There were masses of kids at the launch, and Kallie entertained them all with stories of her near-death hiking experiences. Then, she sent them to the crafts table to create their own woodland creatures. Once completed, the creatures could check in here:

Yes, that’s a replica of the Heartwood Hotel, created by Kallie’s husband Luke.

So of course I went directly home and showed my pictures to Min, who said he would be happy to build me a miniature grow-op for my Prince of Pot book launch.

But it doesn’t seem quite the same, does it?

Plus, I can’t think of a single craft idea. Well, not a single appropriate craft idea…

Running away to the circus

Why Rachelle Delaney is smarter than me:

First, she wrote books set in Moscow and Prague, and therefore had to travel Europe for research purposes. Then, she wrote a book about a circus school, and took trapeze and parkour lessons.

Why on earth am I setting my books deep in the forest in the middle of the Kootenays?

This is entirely bad planning on my part.

But back to Rachelle. Min, Silence, Violence, and I went to her Wednesday night book launch for The Bonaventure Adventures. The Book Warehouse on Main did a wonderful job of hosting. Rachelle was funny and smart as she told us all about her parkour-lesson bruises (at least I only get mosquito bites on my research trips), and the book is fabulous.


I hope L’École Nationale de Cirque has extra lesson spaces for those of us about to launch our own aerial acts…

The Red Cedars

I went to the Red Cedar Awards Gala on Saturday. This is a student-choice award (the very best kind). About 100 kids from across the province were in attendance, along with their teachers and librarians. Some of my favourite authors were also there. In the photo below, you’ll see Linda Bailey (Seven Dead Pirates), Janet Whyte (Shot in the Dark), Robin Stevenson (The Summer We Saved the Bees), Jordan Stratford (The Case of the Missing Moonstone), Sharon Jennings (Connecting Dots), Jennifer Mook-Sang (Speechless), Merrie-Ellen Wilcox (What’s the Buzz), and me.

It never matters who wins a student-choice award. The reward is in the nomination — knowing hundreds of kids will read your book (DNA Detective, in this case), discuss with friends, and vote. But I did think it was funny that my daughter, when scoping out the competition, said, “Mom, it’s too bad you’re up against that animal rescue book.”

And alas, she was right!

A big congratulations to Julia Coey, who won the Red Cedar information book prize this year with Animal Hospital.

Note to self: add baby chipmunks to all future books.